Walking Away from Empire; a book review

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Arthur Conan Doyle.

Ten days ago, I finished reading the book Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. It had been sent to me by the author.

Let me explain how this came about.

A few weeks ago, I published an item under the title of Doggedly seeking the truth.  I included the video “The Twin Sides of the Fossil-Fuel Coin: Developing Durable Living Arrangements in Light of Climate Change and Energy Decline.“  That video was a presentation by Prof. Guy McPherson.

Subsequently, during an exchange of emails with Prof. McPherson there was an offer to receive a free copy of his book, Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey.  Naturally, I accepted.

Having finished reading the book it seemed only fair to write a review.

So far, so good!

I tried to marshal my thoughts for well over a week.   Couldn’t get started.  Strange, because when immersed in the book the messages were crystal clear.

Why the struggle to embrace Guy McPherson’s messages?  Then in a moment of insight I realised that I was struggling to understand why I was struggling!

walkingaway
Published by PublishAmerica, LLLP

Because the blunt truth of the matter is that this book spells out the bleedin’ obvious.  Humanity is between a rock and a hard place!

Look no further than the very first paragraph of the first chapter, Reason,:

At this late juncture in the era of industry, it seems safe to assume we face one of two futures. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we face imminent environmental collapse. If we cease burning fossil fuels, the industrial economy will collapse. Industrial humans express these futures as a choice between your money or your life, and tell you that, without money, life isn’t worth living. As should be clear by now, industrial humans — or at least our “leaders” — have chosen not door number one (environmental collapse) and not door number two (economic collapse), but both of the above.

Sandy Krolick of Transition Voice wrote a review of Guy McPherson’s book in September, 2011.  His last sentence was, “This is a book you will not put down; and having read it, you’ll no longer be able to ignore its conclusions.

Again, what Sandy Krolick writes is perfectly correct. No argument.  Yet …. something about that sentence from Sandy doesn’t speak to me.  That struggle again.

Then I got it!

Let me go straight to page 177 of Prof. McPherson’s book and quote this:

It’s no longer just the living planet we should be concerned about. It’s us. The moral question, then: What are you going to do about it?

Then one paragraph later, come this:

There is simply no feeding the hollow spot in my gut and my psyche, as there was when I replaced my invisible, omnipotent friend in the sky with reason. Instead of abandoning the mirage of eternal life, I’m abandoning the mirage of globalization. Instead of giving up an everloving god, I’m giving up a comfortable life spent with my best friend. I’m taking yet another step in the path from make-believe to reality. And, as we all know, reality is a harsh, dispassionate mistress who doesn’t give a damn about the emptiness in my fragile little psyche. Fortunately, I still have the amusing memories of the absurdity of my former life, in which I believed I was saving the world by conducting and publishing mundane research and teaching irrelevant concepts to a largely disinterested audience.

I found the first step to be the most difficult. Simply recognizing the industrial economy as an omnicidal imperial beast forced me to cross a threshold most people find far too formidable to attempt.

Just reflect on those key words, “a threshold most people find far too formidable to attempt.”

Keep those words in mind as I quote the next paragraph from the book.

We’ve never been here as a species, much less as individuals. And every cultural message tells us we’re wrong, that the industrial age will last forever, that justice and goodness will prevail over every enemy (i.e., terrorist), that progress is a one-way street to industrial nirvana, that the harbinger of hope will keep the oil coming and the cars running and the planes flying so we can all soak up the sun on a sandy beach any time we need a break from our tumultuous lives in the cube farms of empire.

This, then, was the result of reading the book.  The realisation of the reality of our existence.  The immensity of the truth of where mankind is.  The here and NOW!

Sorry, let me amend those last sentences.  My realisation of the reality of my existence.  The immensity of the truth of where I am.  My here and NOW!

No wonder I struggled.

So not much of a book review, more a review of yours truly!  That is the power of this book.  Sandy Krolick was right; “This is a book you will not put down; and having read it, you’ll no longer be able to ignore its conclusions.

Be warned.  When you read this book brace yourself for what you see staring out of the mirror back at you. There will be no room left for delusion.

As Carl Sagan said, “It is far  better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

29 thoughts on “Walking Away from Empire; a book review

  1. Thanks for struggling through to fruition on this, Paul. I can understand a little more than I did, having listened to Guy McPherson explain his own journey in this 50-minute interview posted on his blog yesterday. Having listened to this, i felt compelled to comment, as follows:

    …I really sympathise with Guy… having friends, family and former colleagues who think he’s gone crazy. That is how I feel (that I am going crazy) and, I am sure, those that know me will say the same if I walk away from “normal” society…

    Nonetheless, given his decision to live off-grid… I am bemused by his decision to stay in Tuscon AZ – a region that will be (as you yourself realised) amongst the first in the USA to become uninhabitable…

    However, I think the root of all this denial and/or abdication of responsibility is intertia. We do not want to admit we have screwed things up so bad because doing so demands such fundamental change. There is also the problem that no-one wants to admit the truth of our predicament for the same reason no-one likes to contemplate their own mortality. Thus the denial of climate change is analogous to the denial of death (Becker, 1973): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Denial_of_Death

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    1. Martin, thanks for that feedback and for opening up the debate. I’ve not yet listened to that interview but are you certain GM says without doubt that he is ‘off grid’ in Arizona?

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      1. Yeah, he’s off-grid in AZ — he mentions either in this interview or another talk he’s given that he had made the decision to set down roots in AZ before we had any of the climate research we have now — if he had the info available to him then that we have today, he would have chosen a different spot.

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      1. James, thank you so much for visiting Learning from Dogs and for your comment. You confirmed the impression I gained in reading the book. Your brother is a very committed person and I’m sure I join many tens of thousands of others in hoping that his messages reach the widest of audiences. For the sake of every warm-blooded creature on this planet.

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  2. Paul I think many now are having to take a good look at yours truly and see just what we are doing to our planet.. At the end of the day we are the ones who have to make those choices. We need now to be aware that the choices we make today bring about the changes of tomorrow… We can no longer choose to ignore the consequences of our actions..

    We are each Responsible for our Living Planet… and if we wish to remain upon it.. then we need to seek ways of living on it in more environmentally friendly ways, and we as humans also need to respect not only the Earth, but ALL living creatures upon it..

    We have so lost our way……. and along the way we lost respect for ourselves ….. We are not only walking away from an Empire.. But we are walking our way into extinction ……..

    Sue

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  3. Hi Paul,

    I’m not sure my previous comment went through; I won’t rewrite the whole thing (in case it did). I can elaborate later if it didn’t.

    There’ a “series” on my blog called “Learning Resiliency.” Nine of the last ten entries there deal with me/my struggle with near term extinction and the need for action to end the industrial economy.

    My motivation in writing so publicly about a personal/private crisis is that I do not believe I am particularly special in terms of this kind of transformation from denial to ethical action. Perhaps (goes the hope – that word again!) – if I can articulate my own experience it will facilitate others in articulating, and therefore moving more quickly through, their own.

    Thanks for writing and best regards,
    steph

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    1. Stephanie, your previous comment didn’t come through. Strange. Was it a comment to this post? Either way, thanks for leaving your thoughts and welcome to the blog. I will visit your writings before the end of the day, and look forward to so doing. Paul

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  4. Thank you for your review and honesty in your comprehension on the book. I have only recently come across Guy’s work and although I’ve read similar works/thoughts, Guy’s has touched me. I still struggle with the complete acceptance of what he is saying – not that I will necessarily disagree with him, but rather that to accept it completely means undergoing a massive change in my life, and from my comfortable position, I’m still trying to see how that can work for me and my family.

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    1. Martin, thank you and welcome to this place. Yes, you articulate (in far fewer words than me!) exactly the conclusion that I came to. Should say ‘we’ came to because Jeannie, my dear wife, is of exactly the same opinion. This is, indeed, a most uncomfortable truth!

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  5. Social beliefs reflect the wants and needs of a dominant group. Dominant beliefs are systemically embedded and protected by built in safeguards. Science, technology and years of propaganda have created an unsustainable hydrocarbon based economy on a finite planet. This world is your world.
    This world is our world. The urgent need for change increases daily.

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  6. Just a general response to all you kind persons who have left your thoughts, and other readers. If you want to publish a guest post on Learning from Dogs on this most important of all subjects, I would be delighted. Just send me your essay to the email address contained in the Get Involved link under the Blog Map set of links.

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  7. All we can hope is that new technology will quickly catch up to help cut down the dependence on fossil fuels! All the daily stuff we use, should be produced with fuel-efficiency in mind!

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  8. Thanks for reviewing my latest book. With apologies for arriving late to the conversation, I want to provide a couple clarifying points.

    I live at 4,600 feet elevation in southern New Mexico. When I moved to this location from Tucson four years ago, I thought economic collapse would be complete in time to prevent runaway greenhouse. When I committed to this location more than five years ago, we didn’t know about the IPCC 4th Assessment (aka 1 C by 2100).

    Now, though, I’ve placed my picket-pin here. I often preach the line, “defend what you love.” I love this place. I’ll stay.

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    1. Hi there Guy. Even if you had not read (the insanely optimistic) AR4, it is 15 years or more since you first got into trouble for pointing out to others that Tuscon is not a sensible place for humans to live. Therefore, if your friends family and former colleagues all think you’ve gone crazy, I am struggling to understand the hold the place has on you? However, I guess my problem is that I have moved around so much that I no longer have any concept of what it means to feel “at home”

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      1. Oooh, my apologies! I guess the question I am asking is why l choose to live in a desert? If, however, southern New Mexico is climatically different to Tuscon AZ, I do not know why we are even having this discussion.

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    2. My apologies, Guy. Just in case my ignorance and/or flawed logic are not yet painfully obvious, I had been assuming you had chosen to live in an environment that could not really support you.

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      1. No problem. This place will support me and many other people. It’s the best place in the region with respect to climate change. The last free-flowing river in the state is nearby. But all that is worthless within a few years, which I did not realize in 2007.

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  9. I’m a newcomer to the “Apocalyse Soon” point-of-view, but I too now believe that we’re going somewhere that will bring humanity to its knees. I always keep both sides of an argument in mind and rarely take anything as immutable or irrecoverable.

    The following are my observations as to why I now doubt we can dodge some form of collapse are as follows:

    (i) The ‘technology optimists’ use thinking along the lines of Moore’s Law to assume that technology can always meet future challenges. This may be true, but social factors are usually more significant in inducing changed behaviours: Ignore those and you won’t fix anything.

    (ii) Most of our problems seem to be around resource allocation: The reason for mass starvation, drought and poverty relate not to lack of resources but disruptive (and unfair) mis-allocation. Even in the West we now have a diminishing proportion of the population likely to own their own house, have a worthwhile pension or any significant capital (this is particularly an issue for the next generation, most of whom will have little to show for a lifetime’s work).

    (iii) Social organisation has not kept pace with inc increasing population and changes in society: Tribes, sub-national regional identities and extended families are disappearing but are being replaced by loose-knit groups without the necessary kinship links to ensure people are looked after and effective collective action on a local scale is possible.

    (iv) It’s not resources that are the issue, but the ecological damage caused by high rates of resource usage that are damaging the environment. Over-farming reduces bio-diversity, over-urbanisation results in remainign tracts of green land being unable to absorb waste products, industrial damage is seldom reversed leading to a further inability of the environment to ‘self-correct’.

    (v) The impact of ecological damage and resource mis-allocation does not personally impact the decision makers in the UK and US particularly. It is difficult to see that behaviours will change at the top of society if those people do not have a personal stake beyond the profit motive. Climate change, resource mis-allocation and a degraded environment doesn’t tend to affect the wealthy.

    (vi) Economic and environmental outcomes are closely corelated. An unequal society means that the poorest will want more (very reasonably) and quite likely that the rich will continue to measure their success by economic (actually resource-based) measures.

    In short an unequal world almost guarantees a fight for resources and degradation of the environment beyond the point of repair. In Physics we would call this a ‘positive feedback loop’ (positive not implying virtuous here!!!).

    Sort out the disfunction of economic outcomes and then a resource settlement becomes achievable that will protect us all. My pessimism arises from the lack of political will (even amongst the less wealthy) to achieve a society ‘at ease with itself’ and therefore able to deliver it.

    Andrew

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    1. Andrew, what a fabulous comment. Thank you so much and welcome to this place. As the post was published nearly six months ago, it seems to me that highlighting your comment in a new posting would make sense. I intend to do that soon. Once again, thank you for your comment.

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